Making Justice Matter

War crimes courts invest in outreach programmes to better communicate their work to victims and their communities.

Making Justice Matter

War crimes courts invest in outreach programmes to better communicate their work to victims and their communities.

Saturday, 3 February, 2007
International war crimes courts are first and foremost judicial institutions tasked with trying suspects from some of the most brutal conflicts worldwide, but there is also an expectation that the justice they deliver will play a part in eventual reconciliation.

Some human rights organisations feel that the only way that justice inside the courtrooms can make a difference outside is by educating the communities in the countries affected by the crimes.

They hope that, ultimately, an understanding of justice could deter future violence and lead to communities being reconciled, because someone has paid the price and been held accountable for the crimes they orchestrated.

But the courts are up against a challenge, because often they are located away from the affected community groups. The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, ICTY, and the International Criminal Court, ICC, are in The Hague, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, ICTR, is in Tanzania.

This means the courts have to target information about their work to those who need to hear about it.

It is important to the war crimes courts that Bosnians understand why former Bosnian Serb politician Momcilo Krajisnik was acquitted on genocide charges, and girl soldiers in the DR Congo, DRC, are told why crimes of sexual violence have not been included in the first case against a militia leader at the ICC.

It is equally important that the Hema people from DRC do not feel their ethnic group is being targeted by the international community, as Thomas Lubanga - a Hema - is the only person indicted at the ICC from the inter-ethnic conflict in the Ituri region.

To prevent a spiral of violence and pave the way towards peace and reconciliation, it is necessary for the Lendu people, often the target of violent attacks by the conscripted child soldiers of Hema militias, to feel that someone will eventually answer for the crimes committed against them.

Likewise, the Acholi people must understand that the indicted members of the Lord’s Resistance Army have evaded capture for over a year because lacking its own police force, the ICC relies on cooperation from Uganda and neighbouring states to apprehend the suspects.

So how do the courts go about giving these messages to the people who need to hear them, to avoid becoming disillusioned with international justice?

All have public information and outreach teams dedicated to finding ways in which to make news about the court relevant and accessible.

Even though the Special Court for Sierra Leone is based in Freetown, it still required information campaigns to let the population know about the justice system it was employing - totally different from anything their country had experienced before.

As in many conflicts across Africa, children played an active role in combat in Sierra Leone, but after exhaustive debate over whether they should be prosecuted for their crimes, the Special Court decided they could not be held criminally responsible for their actions.

Even so, outreach officer Binta Mansaray said the communities needed to understand that the court did not condone their alleged crimes, so used radio stations to spread the word about this issue to the community.

She decided that outreach should be targeted at children because if they took an active part in conflict, for justice to be meaningful and peace sustainable, “they need to understand why the court was created so they can tell the story of the darkest chapter of our country, and what was done about it”.

Her team went into schools and youth clubs, and devised activities such as inter-school debates over the indictment issue as a way of getting the young people to understand, and be engaged.

Sarajevo outreach officer for the ICTY, Matias Hellman, explained that targeted and flexible outreach is vital, because initially the information campaign was designed to explain the basics of how the tribunal worked, but the focus has shifted now.

Senior tribunal staff travel to Bosnia to explain the findings of trials to locals, because, says Hellman, the outreach teams believe that “if we try cases about Prijedor we need to go there and explain how the process of criminal justice has worked”.

Pristina ICTY outreach officer, Bronwyn Jones, said there are local misconceptions about the court because cases affecting the area - such as the trial of Serbian president Milan Milutinovic - have started late in the life of the tribunal.

She said field officers need to make the local population understand “how the court works”, and even though the ICTY broadcasts trials online, many people do not have fast internet access in Kosovo.

Jones explained that “people do not tend to read newspapers here because they cost money, but they do watch television”, so her team is putting together a series of programmes to be broadcast on Radio Television Kosovo about the Milutinovic case.

“Most media have not covered this very important case, which has a direct bearing on Kosovo,” explained Jones, “so for the public to sit at home and see this on television allows them to see how things work in the court.”

At the ICC, it is perhaps more important than ever to spread information about the court, since victims are invited to be a part of the prosecution investigations in any given country, and also represented in court by their own attorneys.

In Darfur, Sudanese human rights lawyer Salih Mahmoud Osman explained that four million people have been affected by the ongoing catastrophe, and it is “particularly important to show that justice is being done through the ICC”, because many Darfuris feel the “government of Sudan will never provide justice”.

The ICC has an obligation to explain its work to affected communities, otherwise misunderstandings may spiral to create disillusionment, frustration or resentment.

Claudia Perdomo, outreach coordinator at the ICC, explained that people affected by conflicts “expect the court to help in their day-to-day life, but this is not possible. Some of the expectations are for other institutions to fulfill”.

Sudan presents a particular challenge for the ICC because the court is not welcome in Darfur, and prosecution investigators are forced to operate from neighbouring countries, such as Chad.

To get around the ban, the ICC works with local partner groups in the conflict zones and is now considering special radio programmes. Osman told IWPR that “everyone listens to the radio in IDP [Internally Displaced Persons] camps across Darfur and Chad”.

There could be a weekly programme to “tell victims and survivors that the ICC is impartial… and has not been intimidated by the government”, said Osman.

In DRC, the former outreach advisor to the ICC chief prosecutor, Wanda Hall, set up the Ituri-based Interactive Radio for Justice to encourage discussion about the ICC through phone-ins and interviews with special guests.

However, Beck Bukeni Waruzi, the director of Ajedi-Ka/Projet Enfants Soldats, an NGO working to rehabilitate child soldiers in DRC, is adamant that the main target group for outreach should be former child soldiers, who are “at the centre of allegations against Lubanga”.

He told IWPR that video is the only way to connect, because “young people do not find radio attractive”, but if ICC staff visit a village with a video about the court, “everyone will gather round to watch and listen, and ask questions afterwards”.

Drawing a clear distinction between public information and outreach, Waruzi added that the court can use newspapers and the internet to spread information, but “outreach can only be done through direct interaction”.

He cautioned that the ICC needs to use local experts, however, because “there is a [view] that white people have come to exploit the local people”, and do not know what’s really going on.

But Osman said that only ICC personnel should be the “main actors” in spreading the word about the ICC in Darfur and Chad, because others “might not be trusted or the authorities might go after them for their involvement”.

Stephen Arthur Lamony, coordinator of a group of Ugandan NGOs which scrutinise the work of the ICC, told IWPR that “it is very important that the ICC presence is felt on the ground in Uganda to [counter] the lies and misconceptions that have been spread about them”.

Lamony said that if the ICC “continues to sit in Kampala, they will never be trusted by the communities”, which feel that the ICC tells them to hold war criminals accountable for their crimes “and then drive back to Kampala”.

The message seems to be clear - it is vital for outreach teams to be on the ground so that communities feel that the ICC sees and experiences their suffering first-hand, and understands their situation, and so that court staff are integrated and trusted by the community.

Local authorities in the affected areas are also targets of the outreach programme. In Uganda, outreach teams work with democratically elected locals governments, “liaising with the local counsel to ensure that women's and children's rights are being represented”, explained Perdomo.

But after years of bloody conflict, distrust and suspicion are widespread, and the court can come up against problems when trying to persuade people to support it.

Lamony said that since peace talks between President Museveni and the Lord’s Resistance Army began in Southern Sudan in July 2006, “any attempts by the court or NGOs to disseminate information on the ICC has been interpreted as sabotage”.

He also said that those leaders who do not support the court have “taken the opportunity to spread disinformation about the court for their own end goals”.

To combat disinformation, Perdomo has set up an internship programme at the ICC, whereby professionals like lawyers and prosecutors from conflict regions can come to The Hague and learn how the court works.

“An increased awareness about the rule of law is part of the legacy we can leave,” she said.

Katy Glassborow is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.
Africa, Balkans
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